A touch too much: Negotiating masculinity and proximity in intimate labor

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This paper explores how men who perform intimate labour negotiate perceptions of themselves and their work through complex intersections of masculinity, proximity and propriety. Its focus is on the ways in which embodied organizational negotiations are shaped by gendered perceptions of bodily propriety in three examples of physically, sexually and/or emotionally intimate forms of labour: male massage therapists; men who work in sex shops; and men working as Santa Claus performers. While ostensibly quite different forms of work, each is shaped by the expectation that a ‘quality’ interaction with customers or clients will be based upon the nurturance of a close physical, sexual and/or emotional bond between the service provider and recipient, at the same time as maintaining appropriate bodily boundaries and professional distance. Mediating both imperatives requires a careful negotiation of being appropriately close while at the same time understanding that social perceptions of their work, themselves as workers, and their interactions with customers and clients mean that they are frequently under heightened scrutiny, requiring constant vigilance on their part. Drawing on insights from phenomenological writing on embodiment, specifically Merleau- Ponty’s (2002 [1945]) Phenomenology of Perception, the analysis considers the ways in which intersections between masculinity, propriety and proximity are perceived and negotiated in intimate forms of labour, reflecting on instances when a touch becomes ‘too much’. It considers what these instances reveal to us about gendered experiences of embodiment within organizations and the importance of perception in understanding embodied negotiations of workplace intimacy.


  • Philip Hancock
  • Katie Sullivan
  • Melissa Tyler
Enheter & grupper

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Ekonomi och näringsliv


Sidor (från-till)1715-1739
TidskriftOrganization Studies
Utgåva nummer12
StatusPublished - 2015
Peer review utfördJa